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The San Francisco Psychotherapy Group

The San Francisco Psychotherapy Research Group (SFPRG) was started in the early 1970s by Joe Weiss and Harold Sampson, two psychoanalysts in San Francisco who had a different vision of how psychotherapy works. Weiss’ humanistic theory of psychotherapy said that patients want to get better.  Weiss called his theory “Control Mastery Theory” because he believed that people exert a tremendous amount of unconscious control in their lives in order to master difficult situations that challenge them.  He observed that patients aren’t just passive recipients of psychotherapy but come to therapy with a strategy to change.  Weiss taught that if therapists could “read” that strategy, figure out how patients test them, and understand what steps patients were taking in order to change, therapists could be much more effective in helping them overcome their difficulties and live more deeply meaningful and fulfilling lives.

Not only did Joe Weiss develop a new theory of how therapy works, he and Hal Sampson initiated a research group to empirically test Control Mastery Theory.  The research has shown that therapists who tune into the patient’s strategy to get better clearly result in better outcome, immediately in the session and over time in the therapy.  The research testing Weiss’ theory of how people get better in therapy is respected world-wide.  To date, over 100 articles and books have been published furthering the theory and its practice.  The entire bibliography of the group’s research and writing can be accessed at

Joesph Weiss

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